Tofu: Know Your Label Lingo
If you resolved to eat healthier this year, you might find yourself fixing tofu now and again. And for good reason: Tofu provides a lot of protein and iron (and even calcium and magnesium depending on the brand) with little fat. Tofu, also known as bean curd, is made from soybeans. The beans are cooked, pureed and strained to make pure soy milk. Then a coagulating agent is added so the soy milk forms curds that can be pressed into cakes of tofu.
There are two main types of tofu — regular and silken — whose difference results from the acid or salt added to make the soy milk coagulate. Both types come in soft, medium, firm and extra-firm varieties. Firmer tofu simply has more water pressed out of it.
Regular tofu, sometimes called “Chinese-style tofu,” is packed in water and sold in sealed plastic containers in the refrigerated section of your grocery store. It is coagulated with calcium sulfate, which creates its slightly crumbly texture. “Firm” or “extra-firm” regular tofu is what you want if you’re going to stir-fry it, slice it or otherwise want the tofu to hold its shape. If a recipe calls for pressing, baking or grilling tofu, you also want firm or extra-firm regular tofu. “Soft” or “medium” regular tofu is good for recipes that call for mashing or crumbling tofu. If a recipe doesn’t specify what kind of tofu, regular firm tofu is your best bet.
Like regular tofu, silken tofu, sometimes known as “Japanese-style” tofu, comes in a range of firmness. There’s less difference among them, however, so if you can only find one and it doesn’t match a recipe, don’t worry about it too much. Silken tofu is usually sold in aseptic boxes that don’t need to be refrigerated. Some stores stock it in the refrigerated section with the regular tofu anyway, but many have it in a different part of the store. Silken tofu, unsurprisingly, has a wonderfully silky smooth custard-like texture. Its distinctive texture is the result of being coagulated with magnesium chloride and/or calcium chloride. Silken tofu is ideal for whirling into smoothies, salad dressings or sauces.
Tofu that has been pressed, marinated and baked into a much firmer and more flavorful product is increasingly available. It makes a great snack or can be sliced and used in sandwiches or cubed and added to salads.
Fried tofu is usually coated in cornstarch or arrowroot and deep fried until a crispy exterior develops. Freshly fried tofu will have a creamy interior; fried tofu sold in the refrigerated section of grocery stores has a tendency to be a bit rubbery, but not necessarily in an unpleasant way.
Certified organic tofu is made with organic soy beans. Along with being grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, organic soy cannot be genetically modified. Since pretty much all conventionally grown soy beans are genetically modified and do not need to be labeled as such, people who want to avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms) need to look for organic soy products.
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